WHAT IS THE ROLL OF THE CLASSROOM MONITOR?
by Tom Plonski
All the highly successful teachers I have known
spent most of their classroom time as alert classroom
monitors. I believe that excellence in classroom monitoring
skills marks the difference between an effective teacher
and an ineffective teacher. When the student is off task
he is not learning. When the teacher is not alert to
students going off task, the teacher loses effectiveness.
The first clue to a student's leaving a task is given
by the student's eyes. Where is the student looking? The
student will almost always turn his eyes toward the mental
focus of his attention. The classroom monitor must ask
himself, "Is this where the student would be looking if
the student is on task?"
The same thing can be said about the classroom monitor.
The first clue the students see that the monitor is no longer
monitoring is in the monitor's eyes. The classroom monitor
must become aware of his own eyes. The classroom monitor
must ask himself, "Is this where I should be looking if I am on
task as a classroom monitor?"
If you are a teacher giving a lecture, watch the eyes
of the students. Are they really listening to you? If no
one is listening then why go on lecturing?
The prime objective of the classroom monitor is to SILENTLY encourage the student to stay on task.
With this prime objective in mind let's consider some
tools and procedures that the classroom monitor can use.
1. PHYSICAL PRESENCE
The monitor's mere presence in the room can become
a very strong psychological influence on student behavior.
But this influence on student behavior depends on the
student's perception of the monitor's expectations and
on the student's evaluation of the monitor's behavior.
If the student perceives the monitor to have low
expectations, then student production will also be low.
The monitor's expectations are reflected in his
behavior. Action speaks louder than words. If the
monitor tells the students that he has high expectations
but his behavior contradicts his words, then the students
will believe the behavior. The students will soon
realize that "You say it but you don't mean it." Some
students have a habit of testing adults to see if the
adult still really means what he says. The monitor must
become aware that his own behavior betrays his own true
expectations. The strongest ways for the monitor to
transmit his expectations to the students are non-verbal.
2. MODELING EXPECTED BEHAVIOR
The monitor must model the behavior he expects from
his students. Never underestimate the impact of body
language. If there is a consistent conflict between the
spoken message and the body language, the audience will
eventually disregard the spoken message and believe the
In math class, most of the student's time will be
spent in silent alertness. Therefore, the monitor must
be a consistent model of silent alertness. If we expect
the student's to stay on task, then the teacher and the
monitor must stay on task. In math class, the students
are exhibiting their degree of silent alertness while
being seated but the teacher and the monitor will need
to exhibit silent alertness by their readiness to move
around the room. Unless it is obvious that every
student is silently and strongly focused on his task,
the teacher and the monitor must be standing and
moving silently about the room as needed.
3. FOCUS, LOOK, WALK, TALK
When we suspect a student has stopped working on
his task our first tool is to focus our full attention
on the student by looking at him until he gets back to
work. Many times this is all that is necessary.
Sometimes a non-verbal gesture is necessary (raising
the eyebrows, tilting the head, raising the head,
nodding, pointing etc.)
Usually when an off-task student realizes that the teacher
or monitor is focused on him, the student will return to work.
If a silent, calm stare from the monitor does not cause the student
to return to work, then we must quietly, calmly start to walk
closer to the student. How close we get to the student depends
on whether or not he returns to work on his task.
If the monitor has been standing near a student for a while
but the student has not returned to task, it might become
necessary to engage the student in brief, very quiet,
private conversation. We must not allow this to become
a distraction to the students who are working. If the quiet,
private conversation appears to lengthen and become a
distraction, the monitor should consider asking the student to
step away from the group to continue the conversation in depth.
Whenever the teacher or monitor finds himself breaking
classroom silence in order to scold a student, this is an
admission that non-verbal messages regarding expectations
did not work. This could be because non-verbal messages
were not skillfully used or because of student obstinacy.